The End of Remote Work?
“Remote work is no longer acceptable . . . remote workers should pretend to work somewhere else . . . anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Musk added, “If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly.” Not many will make that ask, one suspects!
CEOs besides Musk have voiced their belief as to the superiority of in-person work. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon says remote work is an “aberration.” Chris Merrill, CEO of capital market company Harrison Street, says remote work is no match for the office. In particular, when it comes to collaboration, learning, creating upward mobility, and working hard. Musk says remote work during the pandemic has “tricked” people into thinking they don’t have to work hard. At least one study supports this view. It finds that knowledge workers spend an average of 67 minutes online each day (five and half hours per week) doing non-productive tasks. Thus, giving the appearance of working hard and being accessible even though they are remote. The buzzword for an activity designed to constantly prove one’s remote engagement is “digital presenteeism.”
Pretending to work hard when working remotely is even more difficult than pretending to work hard at the office! At the office, pretenders made sure the right people saw them when they came in early or stayed late. When leaving for the day they left the light on, sometimes with a steaming cup of hot coffee on their desk, with documents and spreadsheets still open. Maybe they left a coat (an extra used for this purpose) on the back of their chair. Now, with these options not available remotely, to give the appearance of working hard pretenders are engaging in unproductive tasks. Tasks such as attending zoom meetings they don’t need to, replying to emails and Slack messages, adding comments to Google Documents, or updating project management tools.
Other studies do not support Musk’s view. They suggest that working flexible hours, including remotely, increases productivity. More than four in five respondents said they’re more productive and create higher-quality output when they’re able to work flexible hours. One study suggests those who work from home spend ten minutes less a day being unproductive. Additionally, they also work one more day a week and are 47% more productive.
No matter. Some say the first job of a leader is to define reality. Whether right or wrong, Musk has done that at Tesla, as is his prerogative as CEO.
“So what’s this got to do with me?” you query. Unless you work for one of these companies, it doesn’t matter to you what they are doing. Whether it is at Tesla or Apple (hybrid with three days per week at office required), or Facebook (full remote). What matters are the expectations where you work. In addition, the environment where you do your best work. You must ascertain the working remotely reality at your company. Whatever it is now and however it evolves, make sure your response is consistent with your goals and priorities.
Furthermore, you know best the expectations and culture where you work. In some companies, you may be the only one there if you go into the office (Musk suggested Twitter turn its San Francisco home office into a homeless shelter since “no one shows up anyway”). In other companies, your opportunity for advancement may vanish if you do not go in full-time. Consider not only what is expected of you (minimum requirement), but what approach within those expectations allows you to do your best work. This includes being productive and to learn and grow. Of course, that is if you so desire to be known and to advance.
Whether you should or how much time you should work remotely? Make sure YOU choose wisely!
Note to readers: If you saw the Musk quote at the beginning of this blog and thought we’d be discussing his alleged secret affair with an executive, or his other alleged secret affair with another tech titan’s wife, or even his ongoing Twitter drama (now in the hands of the Delaware Court of Chancery), you were disappointed. We’re not touching any of that. Except to say that it’s much more difficult to carry on an affair with a co-worker when everyone is working remotely!
Whether working at the office or remotely, Look Out Above! is your guide for developing critical workplace skills. In a crowded market, we’ve not seen anything like it. Look Out Above! will help you get ahead and stay ahead.
Sources: (1) Jane Thier, Fortune.com, “Elon Musk says remote workers are just pretending to work. Turns out he’s (sort of) right,” July 20, 2022; (2) AppolloTechnical.com (an engineering, design, and IT Talent recruiting firm), “Surprising Working from Home Productivity Statistics,” April 12, 2022.